When is wifi free?

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Free (friː/) – adjective: free; without charge, free of charge, for nothing, complimentary, gratis, gratuitous, at no cost; for free, on the house.

adverb: free; without cost or payment. (Avoid freely)

Seems obvious when you ask Google for the definition. No payment of any sort means the goods or service is free. It’s an invitation to enter into a contract but nothing is to be given in exchange for the service of providing wifi. But what if you were asked for something in exchange? What if a shop said wifi is free if you give me an ice cream? Would that make the wifi no longer free? An ice cream certainly exists in a solid form (OK I’ll concede that it has a specific half life) but what if the price was a big kiss or a promise to buy something. Do they exist? Are they tangible? Do they have any value? Does it matter? What if the price was your email address? What if the price was your consent to receive marketing material?

I stayed in a hotel recently that presented me with a card on arrival with my free wifi code. Not even bothering to switch on the TV or use the bathroom (usual bored, middle aged businessman preoccupations) I fired up the laptop.

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It’s not an easy screen to read but the word free appears four times. All I had to do is tell them my details.

Why?

If no payment is required no bill will be sent. I could use the code without them knowing anything about me. Starbucks manage to do this without any problems but many purveyors of “free” items need to know your name. Worse they need to know my email. Worse than that they had pre-ticked the yes to Marketing box. I unticked it and tried to subscribe without agreeing to terms and conditions but the system prompted me to a) agree the T&C and b) tick the Marketing box.

I complained to reception saying this wasn’t free. No problems Sir. Click on the Conference button at the top of the screen as you’re in a conference here tomorrow aren’t you (wink, wink) and they won’t ask those questions.

I did but just to be sure I decided to read the T&C. First line said by accepting them I would agree to receiving marketing. Trying to buy without ticking them wouldn’t work.

I told reception and she pointed out that all I had to do was use a code and a password and not give any identifiers (like the ones she had taken on the piece of paper I filled in at reception where the code and password was stored next to my personal details).

Feel free to like this article. Just don’t send money. Or ice creams.

This entry was posted in Data Protection, Personal Data, Security and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to When is wifi free?

  1. krowdthink says:

    Agreed – free is so often not free online – we pay with our data all the time, not just the specific data we impart like an email address, but also the meta-data – when we connected, how long for, how much we downloaded, potentially exactly which sites we visited, what services we used (Skype etc) which may infer other meta-data. the list goes on – why do companies feel that the provision of such a low cost service gives them rights to all this data and more? they profile us and track us (you phone connects to hot spots across the hotel and they know eyer they are so they can track your movements if wifi is on your phone and you connected via that device).
    The list goes on….

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